The Importance of the book of Daniel
By Shlomoh
January 22, 2024

Although the Book of Daniel in the TANACH [the Hebrew scriptures] has a very important message, especially in these trying times of widespread violence directed against Jews and other minorities, few Jewish people pay much attention to it. I believe an important reason for this is that Daniel is an apocalypse and religious Jews have turned away from apocalyptic writings because these writings discuss the end of history, and religious Jews have turned away from history and direct their attention to the the TORAH, a book not highly regarded by their nonJewish neighbors.

Christians have taken a greater interest in Daniel because they believe that the author of the book has something relevant to say about their Nazarene messiah. As far as Jews are concerned, Daniel is not speaking to Christians; he is speaking directly to the Jewish People.

The importance of Daniel for us is that it is the first Biblical book to deal with Jewishness and what it means to be a Jew. That is its major theme, and it appears to me that most Christians miss that very Jewish aspect. Christians also erroneously label Daniel as a prophet and place his book alongside those of the prophets. Daniel is not a prophet. He is something other, and what he tells us is far more significant than what the prophets have to say to us as Jews. I will get to show how Daniel differs from the prophets in a short while. Right now, I want to point out just how he manifests himself to us when we think of the things that mark us as Jews.

Not only is Daniel portrayed as the first significant Jew in the TANACH, but he is also the first rabbi in our Bible although his book never uses the word "rabbi" but it is clear that as the head of the Jewish community in Babylon, he is the GADOL HADOR, the great religious one in Babylon just as Mordechai is the GADL HADOR in Persia.

In chapter 1 of the book, we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar wishes to have an audience with the royal and nobles among the Jews whom he has just brought to Babylon as exiles. Daniel is among the nobles although we are not given any information about his lineage.

5 And the king appointed for them a daily portion of the king's food, and of the wine which he drank, and that they should be nourished
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's food, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the officers that he might not defile himself.
10 And the chief of the officers said unto Daniel: 'I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces sad in comparison with the youths that are of your age? so would ye endanger my head with the king.'
[Daniel said to him]
12 'Try thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse [KITNIOT]to eat, and water to drink.
16 So the steward took away their food, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them pulse.

This is the very first time in the TANACH in which KASHRUT is addressed, and it is addressed as a concern of a Jewish noble whom we regard as the first rabbi mentioned in the scriptures. And it is addressed in the very first chapter of the book which sets the tone of who Daniel is for Jews.

In Chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which none of his wise men can interpret. Someone then tells him that there is a Jew, Daniel, who can tell him the meaning of the dream. Daniel says the interpretation he is about to deliver comes from his God. He then tells Nebuchadnezzar that his dream is about the three Empires that will arise after Babylon is defeated in war.

48 Then the king made Daniel great and gave him many great gifts, and made him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and to be chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.

This story is so reminiscent of the story of Joseph and similar to the story of Mordechai. It is the story of the Jew in exile who becomes the elevated court Jew. Joseph was the elevated Hebrew before the Jewish People came into existence but Daniel is the first Jewish viceroy of the current Empire.

Chapter 3
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold ... in the province of Babylon.
4 And the herald cried aloud: 'To you, it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,
5 that at what time ye hear the sound of the horn ... ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up;
8 Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near and brought accusations against the Jews.
12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.'

Needless to say, the king becomes enraged at these 3 friends of Daniel and has them thrown into a fiery furnace. But God sends a miracle to deliver them from harm. The king is so impressed that he delivers an order to his people that they must respect the God of the three men.

29 Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill; because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.'

Our rabbis have said that if any nonJew threatens us with death unless we break a commandment, we are to break that commandment in order to live. There are, however, three exceptions to this rule. We must suffer death and not commit murder, not commit a sexual offense against another human being, and not commit idolatry. Here we have the first instance in the TANACH of three Jews who will face death rather than worship a statue. Here also, we find a first charge made by non Jews that Jews are different from other people, that their faith is not in conformity with that of other nations, and for that, they are to be persecuted and if necessary, killed. Ironically, the means of execution for these Jews is to be thrown into a furnace. Chillingly, it reminds us of what occurred in Germany in the last century. The fact that the author of Daniel reports the king's change of heart as a response to a divine miracle does not alter the fact that he wanted his Babylonian Jews to commit a grave religious trespass and that Jews are already seen as "the other" in a nonJewish society which will put Jewish lives at peril.

In chapter 5, the reader is introduced to a new king of Babylon, Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar's son. Presumably, Nebuchadnezzar has died.
1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand.
2 Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king and his lords, his consorts and his concubines, might drink therein.
3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his lords, his consorts and his concubines, drank in them.

There is a concept in Judaism called ME'ILAH. It is the misappropriation or stealing of religiously consecrated objects for inappropriate use. Belshazzar's use of KEYLIM, sacred utensils, from the holy Temple, would be considered a major sacrilege by the Jews of Babylon, or by any other Jews. Here, in the book of Daniel, we see for the first time in the TANACH an extreme example of this desecration. And the use of these forbidden sacred objects by the Babylonian king has a divine response.

5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the palm of the hand that wrote.
13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. The king spoke and said unto Daniel: 'Art thou Daniel, who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Judah?
14 I have heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and surpassing wisdom is found in thee.
15 And now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me ... but they could not declare the interpretation of the thing.
16 But I have heard of thee, that thou canst give interpretations, ... now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt rule as one of three in the kingdom.'

Once again Daniel is brought into the story as the court Jew who will solve the king's problem. Belshazzar offers Daniel the position of viceroy, obviously ignorant that his father has already made Daniel viceroy. He is like the new king "who knew not Joseph".

Daniel confronts Belshazzar and admonishes him for his ME'ILAH.
22 And thou, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart ...
23 but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and ... have brought the vessels of His house before thee, and thou and thy lords, thy consorts and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.
24 Then was the palm of the hand sent from before Him, and this writing was inscribed.
25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN.
26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE, God hath numbered thy kingdom, and brought it to an end.
27 TEKEL, Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
28 PERES, thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.'

Unlike his father, Belshazzar has gone too far and by his arrogance, and has angered God to the point of an irredeemable punishment.
The king understands the words of the Writing On The Wall. They are Aramaic and the king speaks Aramaic. He just doesn't know their context.

TEKEL is the Aramaic for the Hebrew SHEKEL.
MENE - a SHEKEL is made up on 2 MINOT
UPHARSIN - the SHEKEL is to be divided into two parts.

"Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting."

In Daniel's time, coins were not used. Currency was in the form of lumps of metal, usually gold or silver. If you received a SHEKEL and wanted to satisfy yourself that it was a good SHEKEL, you took in to a numismatist. He would place your SHEKEL in one part of the scale and then place two MINOT in the other part. If they didn't balance out, you had a bad SHEKEL.

Daniel's message to the king is that God has decreed that he and his kingdom are bad SHEKELs and the kingdom will be split apart when the Medes and the Persians declare war on him. The word UPHARSIN may be a play on the name Persia.

In chapter 6, Darius the Mede is now the ruler of the Persian Empire, having defeated and incorporated Babylon into his Empire. As with Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar before him, Darius wishes to make Daniel his viceroy.

5 Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find occasion against Daniel as touching the kingdom, but they could find no occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
6 Then said these men: 'We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him in the matter of the law of his God.'
8 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the ministers and the governors, have consulted together that the king should establish a statute, and make a strong interdict, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
9 Now, O king, establish the interdict, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.'
10 Wherefore King Darius signed the writing and the interdict.

This has such a familiar ring to it. Daniel's envious enemies can't find fault with him as a good Persian citizen. So they go after him as a Jew and attack him at the root of his ethnic identity, "the law of his God", that is, the TORAH. Once again, as so many later times in history, the Jew's problem, the thing that makes him different, and therefore dangerous, is his religion.

11 And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house--now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem--and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

Daniel is aware that there will be a penalty for disregarding the king's edict that no one in his empire is permitted to petition any deity for anything during the current month. Nevertheless, as a devout Jew and a rabbi, he must set an example for his brethren in the kingdom that established and TORAH-mandated prayer is what his God wants, although technically he could have refrained from prayer because of PEKUACH NEFESH, to save his life and the lives of other Jews. But he realizes that if he gives into this demand on the part of his enemies, there will be no end of other religious compromises to be made.

Here Daniel has established for the Jewish People that they are to pray three times a day, facing Jerusalem.

Daniel's enemies report his defiance of the king's edict. Darius has affection for Daniel but he cannot publicly demonstrate that he will make exceptions to his decrees. Therefore he has Daniel thrown into a den of lions, hoping that somehow he will miraculously survive. This indeed does happen. The lions do not attack Daniel who rests in the den all night. When Darius discovers that Daniel is unharmed, he has him removed from the den and casts Daniel's enemies into that same den. They however do not have Daniel's luck. The beasts devour them.

The chapter ends on a happy note.

29 So Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Beginning with chapter 7, the book switches themes. We have in the last chapters Daniel's visions. It is these visions which make Daniel something other than a prophet for us Jews. The prophets spoke directly to the Jewish People in the name of God to deliver His messages. Their declarations usually start out with some form of "Thus saith HASHEM, God of Israel". Their messages are primarily devoted to admonishing the people for unacceptable behavior in the hopes that the prophetic message will alter the bad behavior. The prophets then warn that if the behavior does not change, evil will befall the people while conversely if the behavior does change and the people repent, then only good will follow. In other words, the prophets do not predict an absolute future; they predict a possible future based on how the people receive God's message and how they respond to it.

Daniel does not do this. He does not address the Jewish People with any declaration about what God is saying to them. He merely reports visions that he has had in dreams. And these visions tell of an absolute future, independent of the people's behavior. Actually, during Daniel's time, Jews were no longer idolatrous and were acting in accordance with the precepts of the TORAH.

Chapter 7
1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed; then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters.
2 Daniel spoke and said: I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven broke forth upon the great sea.
3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.

Daniel goes on to say that in the succession of these beasts arising from the sea, each succeeding one was more horrible than the one prior and that each succeeding beast devoured the one before it.

This is the significance of the beasts. Each one represents one of the four empires that succeeded one another and devoured the one preceding it: namely: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Each of these kingdoms harassed and persecuted the people of Israel to a more or lesser degree and each of them bestowed an evil remembrance for Jews.
Babylon gave us TISHA B'AV - the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the exile of the elite to Babylon/
Persia gave us PURIM - the first recorded Biblical story of attempted genocide.
Greece gave us CHANUKAH - the first extra-Biblical record of an attempt to erase the TORAH in a religious genocide.
Rome, our greatest enemy, gave us an even worse TISHA B'AV from which we have not even today, 2000 years later, fully recovered, That destruction of our Temple and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem ultimately led to the greatest exile that our people have experienced, accompanied by expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, and a Holocaust undreamed of, after Rome embraced Christianity and made it a Roman religion. In the name of the Roman god, Christ, his followers have turned the Jewish People into a supernatural pariah.

And again, I remind the reader that the evil inflicted on our people had nothing to do with our behavior. Daniel has said that our subjugation by these empires has to do, not with our behavior but with the will to power on the part of the gentile empires. In effect, these kingdoms were telling us that we are not a chosen people because we lack power. By their persecution of us, they announce their own chosenness.

But where are they now? Babylon is gone and we remain. Persia has morphed into Iran, a second-rate country that continues to hate and threaten Israel. Greece is remembered for its cynic philosophers and for its failed Helenization of Western Asia. The Greeks themselves became subjects of the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabians, and the Turks. Their own great Christian city, Constantinople, has been turned into the Muslim Istanbul. And Rome? Yes, there are Italian people living in the city of Rome but they are not the descendants of the subjects of the Roman Empire. That old Rome is gone, and we remain.

Daniel completes the description of these visions.
12 And as for the ,,, the beasts, their dominion was taken away; yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought near before Him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
27 And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.'

Daniel's major vision series ends with the final disappearance of the arrogant kingdoms and the appearance of one called the Son Of Man [Aramaic for 'human being'].

In contradistinction to the earlier visions, this describes a person, not a beast. The beasts arise from the filthy ocean but the Son of Man comes down from the clean clouds

Whether this figure represents a Messiah or a symbol of the Jewish People is under debate by our rabbis. Nevertheless, the appearance of the Son Of Man signals the End Times when the nations turn to Israel for guidance and leadership and antisemitism disappears. It is the Messianic Era.

Why have I chosen to write this essay and why do I think that the much overlooked book of Daniel is relevant for our time?

The books of the TANACH which precede that of Daniel deal with our people as Hebrews and/or Israelites. Daniel is the first book encountered in which the Bible deals with people we can recognize as Jews. It is in Daniel's book that we get a glance at what is means to be a modern-day Jew as opposed to an ancient Hebrew or Israelite. And Daniel is the first book in the TANACH in which we encounter antisemitism. Before this, the nations that became our enemies did not regard us as particularly different from themselves because of our religion or for any other theological reason. They were enemies because they went to war with us over territory, not because we just happened to be Israelites. Pharoah did not want to have our male babies tossed in the Nile because we worshipped a god different from his. Again, with the Egyptians, it was all about war and whom we would side with in the event of an attack on Egypt. In Daniel, some individuals and kingdoms want to do us harm because of whom we worship or how we worship, and how we live our religious lives. In Daniel, we are not called "infidels" since that word and that concept only arose with the coming of Christianity and Islam. Our enemies in Daniel do not consider us "unfaithful" to any deity. They just consider us different enough to be persecuted. In light of what Daniel tells the reader about the precarious situation that Jews find themselves in simply because of who we are, this Biblical book is very relevant considering what has befallen us over the past millennia and certainly to a much greater degree since last October 7.

Because Daniel is an apocalypse, Christians are drawn to it while Jews shy away from it. We may have been an apocalyptic people 2000 years ago but since the fall of Betar, the last Jewish stronghold against Rome, and since our dispersion worldwide by our Roman enmies, we have turned away from history which is what apocalyptic is all about, and turned inward toward the TORAH. Apocalyptic preoccupation and messianic hope have become secondary concerns in our lives. History will turn out how it turns out, and it does not need our help to reach its end. It is the present that concerns us and the only apocalyptic value Daniel has for us is to remind us of who we are and how we deal with our ever-present adversaries.

I urge all my fellow Jews to read the book of Daniel along with rabbinic commentary because every one of us who is not blind can see the Writing On The Wall.

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